Movies Till Dawn: Something for Your Rattled Nerves

The Beguiled” (1971, Kino Lorber) Wounded Union soldier Clint Eastwood attempts to play fox in the henhouse while recuperating at a private women’s school in the Deep South, but his increasingly aggressive behavior only provokes an even more disturbing response from the headmistress (Geraldine Page) and students. Audiences didn’t want to see Eastwood play a heel, which doomed this period thriller from Don Siegel upon release; four-plus decades later, it’s the performances – especially Page and Elizabeth Hartman in roles that teeter on the edge of misogyny – that distinguish the film, though the suspense and unsettling atmosphere also has appeal. Kino’s Special Edition Blu-ray includes insightful commentary by Kat Ellinger, a new interview with cast member Melody Thomas Scott, and a vintage featurette on Eastwood and Siegel’s collaborations in 1971, which included this film, “Play Misty for Me” and “Dirty Harry.”

Daughters of Darkness” (1971, Blue Underground) Newlyweds John Karlen and Danielle Ouimet are roused from their off-season honeymoon on the coast of Belgium by icy countess Delphine Seyrig and her companion (Andrea Rau), whose interests in the couple slowly shifts from prurient to predatory. Unique mix of stately art film and grindhouse-minded vampire chiller from director Harry Kumel, which benefits greatly from an ambiguous and archly funny script by surrealist Jean Ferry and Seyrig’s elegant, world-weary presence. Kumel doesn’t shy away from the required bloodshed, but the gore is less a payoff than a counterpoint to the chilly seduction and possession games played by all four leads. Blue Underground’s all-region Blu-ray – a 4k restoration scanned from the original camera negative – bundles new extras (commentary by critic Kat Ellinger) with vintage supplements (commentaries by Kumel and John Karlen with David Del Valle, interviews with Ouimet and Rau, promotional material) and a bonus CD of Francois de Roubaix’s eerie avant-garde score.

Reversal of Fortune” (1990, Warner Archives Collection) Barbet Schroder‘s dramatization of Claus von Bulow‘s high-profile murder trial has lost a bit of its mordant humor in the last few years – due in part to Trump apologist Alan Dershowitz (played by Ron Silver) as its hero, but most likely as a result of widespread nausea caused by another wealthy white guy getting away with (literal) murder). But that doesn’t subtract from Schroder’s elegant direction or Nick Kazan‘s eminently quotable script (both of which netted Oscar nods), or Jeremy Irons‘ turn as the unctuous, reptilian von Bulow, which took home the Oscar. Among its other superlatives: a flawless supporting cast, led by Glenn Close, who as von Bulow’s wife, Sunny, narrates from the depths of a diabetic coma, and featuring Uta Hagen, Christine Baranski, Fisher Stevens, and (briefly) Felicity Huffman and Bill Camp, and icily gorgeous cinematography by Luciano Tovoli. Warner Archives’ Blu-ray ports an informative commentary track by Schroder and Kazan from a previous DVD edition.

Thank you to Warner Archives Collection for providing a free Blu-ray for this review.

The Dark and the Wicked” (2020, RLJE Films) News of their father’s impending death brings siblings Marin Ireland and Michael Abbott Jr. back to their family’s lonely farm, where they discover that illness and long-simming family estrangement is the least of their concerns. Slow-building and ultimately terrifying indie horror film from Bryan Bertino (“The Strangers”) takes a page from “The Babadook” and the films of Ari Aster (“Hereditary“) by rooting its terror in emotional trauma, guilt, and (especially) neglect; the scares are more subtle here (but no less impactful), though Bertino doesn’t shy away from some weapons-grade shocks (if you don’t like spiders or sharp objects near eyes…). The cast shoulders the emotional battering well – Ireland takes on the lion’s share of the heavy work, with notable support from Abbott Jr., Julie Oliver-Touchstone (mother) and Xander Berkeley (scary priest); RLJE’s Blu-ray includes an Q&A with Ireland and Abbott Jr. from the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal.

The Shadow of Violence” (2020, Lionsgate) Cosmo Jarvis plays a fearsome but flawed enforcer for a rural mob family in this gritty-stylish Irish drama, which attempts to highlight the soul in a figure surrounded and defined by brutality. Director Nick Rowland and writer Joe Murtagh (adapting Colin Barrett’s short story “Calm with Horses”) provide plenty of material for both sides of their anti-hero: a savage beating to open the film, and plenty of brooding narration and a neglected son, and if both are well-traveled roads in better films, “Shadow” has an advantage in Jarvis’s colossal frame and mournful visage. How violence can ruin both victim and perpetrator is maybe the film’s most effective message, though it’s the performances – and in particular, Barry Keoghan as Jarvis’s mob handler/exploiter – that ultimately stand out. Lionsgate’s DVD is widescreen.

Waxworks” (1924, Flicker Alley) Three stories of consuming obsession, and the price paid for such, anchored by a framing story of a poet (future director William Dieterle) who pens stories for a wax museum’s exhibits of Caliph Harun al-Rashid, Ivan the Terrible, and Jack the Ripper (mistakenly labeled here as “Spring-heeled Jack”). A last gasp of sorts for German Expressionism – director Paul Leni, co-star Conrad Veidt (who plays Ivan) and scripter Henrik Galeen (“The Golem,” “Nosferatu”) would all decamp for the United States soon after its release – “Waxworks” benefits greatly from the extraordinary visual and production design inherent to the movement – the exaggerated camera angles and costuming in the Ivan the Terrible story and the hallucinatory lighting and in-camera effects in the Ripper segment – and by the full-bodied performances of “Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” co-stars Veidt and Werner Krauss (who plays Spring-heeled Jack). Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray features a beautiful 2K restoration of the film (which was for a time considered lost), as well as two score options, commentary by Adrian Martin (if you’re curious about the history of German Expressionism, here’s something of a master class), interviews with Kim Newman (discussing horror anthologies) and Julia Wallmuller (on the restoration) and one of Leni’s “Rebus Films” – avant-garde animation disguised as audience participation games shown before and after theatrical screenings.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, and George Newall, who created both "Schoolhouse Rock" and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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